Van Hool grandson requests retrial in adjudgement trailer division to GRW

A new plot twist in the saga surrounding bus builder Van Hool’s bankruptcy might jeopardize Australian GRW’s final take-over of the trailer division. CIM Capital, a Belgian investment company specializing in the take-over of ailing firms and one of the bidders, entered an official protest against the curators’ decision, which it calls ‘unfair.’ A judge is to decide.

CIM Capital claims it was not granted access to vital company information, which is needed to make a well-founded bid. It accuses the curators of considering only the GRW-VDL bids under so-called ‘time pressure’ to save jobs.

However, the Belgian bidder says it plans to maintain 550 jobs in a take-over of the trailer division, instead of 105 blue-collar workers and 15 white-collar workers initially and a maximum of 350 considered by GRW.

Years of internal family struggles

Antwerp-based investor CIM Capital was founded by one of the grandsons of Van Hool founder Bernard. Mark Van Hool’s father was one of the brothers who sold their shares in the company to the rest of the family after years of internal struggle.

When Bernard Van Hool died in 1974, he divided the company among his eight sons, giving them all leading positions and parts of the enterprise while leaving his two daughters, Ingrid and Simone, out.

When part of the brothers was bought out in 2001, and the other part continued the company with another grandson, Filip Van Hool, as CEO, the two sisters and their relatives claimed their part of the heritage. That conflict wasn’t settled in court until today.

After decades of fighting, a judge ordered the sequestration of two-thirds of the company’s shares. If this heritage wasn’t settled, a judge’s notary could have obstructed a take-over by new shareholders of a restructured company. In March, crisis CEO Mark Zwaaneveld put the family under pressure at pistol-point to find an agreement, but as this had no result, bankruptcy was unavoidable.

Saving 550 jobs

On April 10th evening, two days after the Court in Mechelen declared Van Hool bankrupt, the curators finally chose the initial bids of VDL for the bus section and Australian GRW with its German partner Schmitz Cargobull for the industrial trailer section.

Now, CIM Capital says it had made an initial bid of 21 million for the trailer division the day before, saying it would preserve at least 70% of the jobs in a quick restart, some 550 instead of 350 promised by GRW. However, it claimed it was willing to make a more founded bid after inspecting the company’s financial figures, which was never granted.

While GRW wants to focus on only part of Van Hool’s former trailer production, the specialized tankers, CIM Capital claims it wants to keep a wide variety of truck trailers in production, for which a well-filled order book exists. It says it’s backed up in these by three former top managers from Van Hool.

Contrary to the GRW bid, CIM Capital also proposed buying the Van Hool imperium’s real estate in Koningshooikt (bus and trailer factory) with partner Delcrinvest. The latter is the family holding of Jos Delcroix, owner of the car tire company ‘Deldo Autobanden’.

Third-party proceedings

CIM Capital now requests in court a retrial of the Van Hool trailer division adjudication to GRW and undo it. These third-party proceedings can start at the end of May but could take months. The investment company’s lawyers also started a legal procedure in summary proceedings to be granted access to the financial figures of the bankrupt Van Hool company and to be able to make another bid.

A judgment in summary proceedings could follow soon, around May 14th, but according to legal experts, it’s unclear what this could mean for the GRW take-over. GRW is already prepared to restart production with 70 of the former employees.


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